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Key player from Lobos' state title team dies

By Rick Kretzschmar
Sept. 6, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Don Fambrough - a key player for Longview High School's state-championship football team in 1937 before a standout playing career and two head-coaching stints at the University of Kansas - died on Saturday after hitting his head in a fall near his residence in Lawrence, Kan. He was 88.

Fambrough was a captain for the 1937 Longview squad. Playing fullback and linebacker, Fambrough helped the Lobos defeat Wichita Falls 19-12 on Nov. 25, 1937 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in the state championship game in Class A, the only classification at the time.

The 1937 squad - which compiled a 14-0 record - is the lone state champion as well as undefeated and untied team in school history.

"Anytime someone who has been associated with the Longview football program like Don Fambrough passes away is a big loss," said Pat Collins, who was the Longview ISD director of extracurricular activities for 11 years from 2000 until his retirement in June.

Ralph Bailey, a Longview season-ticket holder since 1949, said he has heard stories about Fambrough's skills.

"He was an outstanding player," Bailey said. "He was an outstanding fullback and runner back when running the ball was all they believed in."

Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at First Christian Church in Lawrence. A private interment will be at Pioneer Cemetery in Lawrence.

Fambrough was born on Oct. 19, 1922 in Longview, the son of Ivey and Willie Whittington Fambrough.

In an interview with Lawrence Magazine, released on Aug. 1, Fambrough said his mother was the reason for his success, encouraging him to become the first person in his family to attend college. She also encouraged his football skills by building a goalpost on the family ranch and being the holder when her son practiced kicking extra points.

Fambrough's chores on his family ranch included milking, feeding livestock and rounding up cattle.

In the same interview, Fambrough said he met his future wife, Del Few, while playing in a sandbox together as kids. They married on Oct. 4, 1941 in Austin. She preceded him in death on Nov. 17, 2001.

Fambrough played offensive guard and linebacker for the University of Texas in 1941 and 1942 before entering military service in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II.

In the service, Fambrough met Ray Evans, who convinced him to transfer to Kansas. After receiving permission from Texas coach Dana X. Bible, Fambrough earned all-Big Six Conference honors at guard in 1946 and 1947, helping the Jayhawks advance to the 1948 Orange Bowl.

In a poll conducted by the Lawrence Journal-World selecting an all-time Kansas team while commemorating college football's centennial year in 1969, Fambrough was named a first-team guard.

Fambrough was an assistant at Kansas from 1948 to 1953 and again from 1958 to 1970 before getting promoted to head coach in 1971. His teams compiled a 20-24-1 record from 1971 to 1974 before he took five years off to help Kansas with special projects and raising athletic scholarship contributions.

Fambrough's second stint as head coach of the Jayhawks was from 1979 to 1982, with those teams compiling a 17-24-4 record before he retired.

After retirement, Fambrough remained a strong backer of Kansas football teams. He was noted for his passionate dislike of the University of Missouri, Kansas' archrival, and was asked by Kansas coaches to give pep talks before Kansas-Missouri games.

In a Saturday article in The Kansas City Star, Fambrough was described as falling in love with Kansas so hard that it was like his time at the University of Texas didn't exist. In the article, David Lawrence - who played for Fambrough as an offensive lineman from 1979 to 1981 - said he would bring up Fambrough playing for the University of Texas and Fambrough would respond, "That's not my school!"

Lawrence added, "And this is after a lifetime of exposure to Texas football, which is a bigger deal. But this (Kansas) was his school. It didn't matter if it didn't match up."

Survivors include a son, Bob Fambrough of Lawrence, Kan.; a son and daughter-in-law, Preston and Ginny Fambrough of Baldwin City, Kan.; four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

The family suggests memorials be made to the Lawrence Schools Foundation for the Don & Del Fambrough Scholarship Fund or to the Douglas County Visiting Nurses, Rehabilitation and Hospice Care, sent in care of the Warren-McElwain Mortuary in Lawrence, 120 W. 13th St., Lawrence, Kan.

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